With movie theaters, concerts, festivals, and other community activities closed down, could 2020 be the year people get back outside? We talked with a few experts to get a fresh take on COVID-19.
By all accounts, the bike industry is booming. Several headlines this week screamed, “Bikes are the new toilet paper!” They note that people around the world are rushing to buy bicycles as they avoid public transportation and turn to isolated exercise.
And indeed, a remarkable number of bicycles are selling like hotcakes online. Brands are taking note, offering home delivery and setup services. Trek, for example, will professionally assemble and deliver your bike right to your home.
Trek hopes that this busy season, which coincides with a seasonal boom in bike sales, is more than a blip on the radar. One brand representative noted that this could be a foot in the door for many people who have considered the sport but never made the final push to commit.
“What we’re most hopeful for is that people change their views of cycling, that they view it as more of a tool and less of a toy or something to do on the weekend,” said Eric Bjorling, Director of Brand for Trek.
Bike sales have been relatively flat for the last few years, he added. But this spring, the brand is seeing a large uptick in service and participation. And the biggest bump? Entry-level hybrids and entry-level mountain bikes.
It’s anecdotal at best. But the brand did reach out to consumers for more quantifiable data.
Last week, Trek Bicycle released new results from a nationally representative survey of over 1,000 American adults ages 18 and over, conducted in partnership with research firm Engine Insights. The study explored how cycling behaviors and attitudes are shifting amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
The brand claimed the results revealed that bike riding is perceived as a “safer” activity and mode of transportation compared to public transit, and more people are biking than before.
Among key findings, the study revealed that:
- 85% of Americans perceive cycling as a safer mode of transportation compared to public transportation while social distancing
- If Americans must travel within 5 miles during COVID-19, 90% included biking in their top three primary modes of transportation
- 14% of Americans ride bikes to replace public transportation
- Nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) feel bike riding helps to relieve stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Nearly one-third (27%) of Americans who own a bike turn to bike riding for mental health or to de-stress
- 41% of Americans feel exercise and fitness are the most important motivation to ride their bike during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Over one-third (38%) of Americans who own a bike use cycling as their source of exercise
Could Outdoor Gear Be Next?
David Ollila, an outdoor industry veteran, is known to make some waves. He was a major player in the backlash surrounding Backcountry lawsuits in 2019 and works as president and chief innovation officer for Skypoint Ventures. He’s also co-founder of the nonprofit 100K Ideas.
In a conversation this week, he said that new participants are rushing to the outdoors and that it’s up to veterans to help welcome and guide them.
“If I go to any of my trailheads, they are busier than they ever are on a sunny day,” he said. “We have this incredible opportunity to expose this to a new population.”
He also noted that with sporting venues, movie theaters, and long-distance travel no longer viable options for entertainment, people are turning to the fun they can have near home. And that fun is often outside.
“If we can’t satiate ourselves with entertainment, we will satiate ourselves with experiences. And the outdoor industry is going to be the winner,” he said.
Ollila admits that nothing is guaranteed. The financial struggles many people face will almost certainly put a damper on any possible boom in gear sales. Millions of Americans are out of work, and scheduled reopenings of state economies are far from certain. Even the bike industry notes that it has many challenges to face, such as closures in many markets in Europe.
“It’s going to be a tough year industry-wide. Some markets are closed; markets in Europe are completely closed during a time of year that is usually really good,” Bjorling said.
But both agree, people are getting outside in record numbers. They’re staying mostly close to home. And for many, it’s the first step into outdoor recreation that, if fostered, could lead to a lifelong love of outdoor activity.